Unless you’re new to the world of body art, you’ve probably heard someone tell you to avoid direct sun exposure to your tattoo – most people know that a general rule of tattoos is to avoid too much sunshine, but you may not have heard why that is. Not only can exposing your tattoo to the sun be harmful to you, it can actually diminish the shelf life of your ink’s sharp quality. Knowing more about what happens when the sun interacts with your tattoo, and understanding how to minimize the damage, will go a long way towards helping you and your tattoo stay healthy.
Why Worry About Sun Exposure?
Getting a tattoos isn’t a decision to be made lightly. Most people put a lot of time and energy into picking out their first designs – carefully considering everything from color and placement, to the artist that will design it. Putting all that work into your design, and paying to have it done, can embed in you a sense that your tattoo is permanent, and it is. But it’s important to distinguish “permanent” from “invincible” – even after it’s been inked onto your skin, a tattoo can be damaged, or ruined, if you aren’t careful. Direct sunlight is one of the main contributors to early tattoo damage, especially right after you’ve gotten your ink done. Think about other works of art you may have hanging around – when you put a portrait or photograph in a sunny window, over time that photograph ages. You’ll see the effect with bumper stickers on your car, or Halloween decorations your family has been putting out in the front yard for years. Your tattoo works in much the same way. The key to keeping your tattoo looking fresh and crisp for a prolonged period of time is to avoid those sunny rays.
How Much Sun Should You Avoid?
That’s certainly not to say that getting a tattoo means dedicating yourself to staying indoors, and completely covered, seven days a week. Part of the fun of having a tattoo is showing it off once in a while, whether you’re at a pool party or just mowing the lawn. Staying in the shade as much as possible is always a good plan, but a little bit of sun won’t kill your ink. Long exposure to the sun’s rays is the problem; so when you need to be outside or an extended time, wear clothing that sufficiently covers your tattoo. If you plan on swimming, be extra cautious – the part of your body that’s above water is much more likely to get sunburned, due to the sun reflecting off of the water.
When your tattoo is fresh, the guidelines are much stricter. You should avoid the sun as much as possible while your tattoo is still healing. Your body has essentially just absorbed several small gaping wounds, and that makes your skin prone to infection, just like with any other scrape or scab. Keep your newly tattooed area covered in bandages and ointment whenever you plan on being outside for a prolonged period of time.
What Happens If You Don’t?
Your body reacts to tattoos as if they’re an infection because essentially, they are. When you’re tattooed, a needle injects ink deep below the surface of your skin in large enough quantities that your body isn’t able to fully destroy it. That’s how the artwork is permanented onto your skin. While the design remains, your tattoo does slowly fade over time, as the outer edges of the ink are treated as toxins, and carried away to be processed through your body.
Getting a sunburn speeds up the whole process of your cells eating away at your ink, because when you’re burned, your body senses extra danger in the area. The more damaged the skin around your tattoo becomes, the harder your body is going to work to get rid of any toxins causing damage – and the more faded your tattoo will end up looking.
Since you’re essentially making your immune system work harder than usual when healing a burn – or even a tan – you actually increase your likelihood of getting skin cancer, skin infections, and other diseases. You may even open yourself up to the possibility of permanent scarring, especially with more temperamental inks, like white or UV-based inks.
Tanning beds have the same effect as laying out in the sun, as your body is intentionally exposed to UV radiation to get that perfect tan. You should avoid this exposure in the same way you’d avoid the sun, and be extra cautious when it comes to your tattoo. Too much tanning can cause your tattoo to fade more quickly than you’d like. If you want the tanned look without risking the damage to your ink, consider tanning lotions as an alternative. As long as your tattoo is already completely healed when you apply the lotion, it won’t damage your skin any more than other lotions would.
How Can You Prevent Sun Damage?
First of all, know your skin. Do you burn or tan easily? Does your skin seem generally impervious to the sun? In both cases you should take precautions, but if you know your skin is particularly vulnerable, you should be more vigilant when it comes to your tattoo’s care. Cover your tattoo with a high SPF and waterproof sunscreen whenever you’re going to be outside for a prolonged period of time, and reapply frequently. Most sunscreens recommend that you reapply every one or two hours, but read the instructions on the bottle to ensure maximum protection.
It’s always a good idea to apply dedicated lotion to your tattoo, especially if you’ve been out in the sun for a while. Reach out to your tattoo artist to ask if there’s a specific brand or variety of lotion they recommend. The moisture mitigates the damage to your skin – plus, keeping your inked design hydrated can help restore the brightness of your tattoo.
If the skin around your ink becomes inflamed, itchy, or red and hot to the touch, your tattoo may be infected. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to keep your body art out of the sun entirely, and contact a doctor, especially if you feel feverish. It’s essential to treat an infection promptly and carefully, to ensure that it doesn’t get worse.
While avoiding the sun as much as you can is the best option for tending to your tattoo, becoming more knowledgeable about the effects of the sun will enable you to show off your design as safely as possible – whether you’re taking a day trip to the beach, doing some summer yard work, or going for a walk outdoors. Taking care of your skin and nurturing your ink are vital parts to keeping your body healthy overall, and keeping your tattoo looking its best.